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  • work
  • | compassion
  • | mindfulness
By Sara Tollefson

Do you feel disconnected from your highest self at work? Do you wish you handled conflict better? Have you felt burnt out by others’ stress or emotions? Do you wish you could bring more warmth and connection into your daily life?

Practicing more compassion—for yourself and for others—may not only help in these situations, but might also make you more effective at your job.

These were among the lessons learned at a recent symposium—and Fetzer Institute project—that gathered over 50 national and international leaders from the fields of conflict resolution, social justice, contemplative law, therapeutic jurisprudence, education, holistic medicine, public interest design, psychology, collaborative law, and the courts. Their focus was looking at how family lawyers could use compassion to provide better conflict resolution services to their clients, but the wisdom they shared applies to anyone working in a “helping profession” and beyond.

1. Identify and live your core values
Get present to who you really are. Think about what moves and inspires you. Decide what values you want to manifest in your life and commit to the idea that it is possible for you to manifest those values. Start to manifest those values immediately, and organize your life in a way that supports your core values. This will build a strong foundation of authenticity and integrity that will make you more resilient and the people you work with more reassured and trusting.

2. Practice self-care
Especially if you work regularly with people in crisis and trauma, be sure to monitor your own resiliency and well-being. Like the mother in a plane who must place the oxygen mask on her own face before placing one on her child’s, be sure to see to your own emotional and spiritual needs first if you want to be of ongoing and authentic service to the people you work with.

3. Practice mindfulness
Many stressful and emotional situations can be diffused through mindful practices such as the “R.A.I.N.” approach:
Recognize what is happening,
Allow life to be just as it is,
Investigate inner experience with kindness, and
Non-identification (or resting in Natural awareness).

Techniques like this strengthen your resiliency, open your heart, and bring calm to stressful situations in ways that can help both you and the people you work with.

4. Model positive values and emotional intelligence for the people you work with
Use non-defensive communication, and act with patience, receptivity, awareness, authenticity, forgiveness, courage, integrity, honesty, mindfulness, respect, empathy, and compassion, and it will be much easier for you to explain and advocate for such attitudes and behavior to the clients you work with. 

5. Be present with and attend to others’ emotions
If you work with people in crisis, it’s important to enable them to process grief, anger, and/or shame so that they can move into a less emotionally triggered state before they start making important decisions. Even if you don’t typically work with people in crisis, appreciating the effect of emotions on decision-making and exercising compassion can make you more skillful at recognizing when someone is not in a position to make an important decision.

Sara Tollefson is a lawyer and past member of the Fetzer Institute’s Law Professions Advisory Council.